What comes to mind when you think of cruise food? Let's be honest, you're most likely picturing long lines at buffets laden with uninspiring offerings. As a food lover who travels to taste the local culture on a plate, I was never very interested in the meals my mom told me about on her cruises. Then I was invited to sail on a Mediterranean voyage on board Princess Cruises' new Royal Princess (the ship recently christened by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge), and the food on board sounded as tantalizing as the ports of call along the way: Istanbul, Mykonos, Naples, Rome, Florence, Provence, and Barcelona. My mom and I signed on, and set out to eat our way from Istanbul to Barcelona.
And did we ever. Even with a week on board I didn't try a fraction of the offerings on the lovely new ship, but found myself grinning ever more enthusiastically at the food I did sample. And I learned with the first bite of coppa ham our first night on board that this is not your mother's cruise food. This is food to write home about.
Even if you don't hit up the specialty restaurants, the buffet — that maligned staple of cruises — is nothing for a food snob to turn up a nose at. Taking inspiration from the spice route, action stations offer freshly made fare featuring global flavors. But my favorite? The swath devoted to pastries. With pastry chef Eric LeRousic at the helm down in the galley, a colorful array of jewel-like creations, including macarons, tempted every day.
The true magic of the culinary staff is revealed at the specialty restaurants and dining events. The Italian restaurant Sabatini’s served the kind of house-made pasta you'd expect to find in a Tuscan kitchen. An intimate winemaker dinner housed inside a wine cellar-inspired room was a food and wine lover's dream, with pairings created in conjunction with noted winemakers. And omnivores rejoiced at the Crown Grill & Wheelhouse Bar, where luscious prawns vied with slabs of tender beef for attention. (True confession: this writer made a dash back to the cabin to change into a roomier dress after taking one look at the menu).
In fact, take my advice and pack your eating clothes. You'll need them.
For more information on Princess Cruises, check their website.